What is a fire risk assessment?

A fire risk assessment should identify the people at risk and the potential for a fire to start and spread. 

The main point of the risk assessment should prioritise protecting life and not the building. Alerting people and safely evacuating them to a place of safety should always be the main aim of any fire risk assessment. The person undertaking the risk assessment should have a good working knowledge of both the building and a better understanding of how fires can start and spread. 

fire safety wording

Understanding Fire

A fire requires three things to start and develop; fuel, oxygen and an ignition source. If you take any one of those away, a fire will not start, or if the fire has already started, it will be extinguished. 

Fuel can be anything that can burn; paper, wood, plastic, flammable liquids or gas, etc. The oxygen source is basically air; an ignition source is anything that can generate heat.

Therefore, looking at a building and identifying fuel and where it is stored and ensuring an ignition source is not close by is essential. For example, storing cardboard and paper in an electrical cupboard would be unwise. The ignition source could be faulty electrics, the paper and cardboard the fuel source and the air is, of course, the oxygen source. By removing the paper and cardboard, a fire would be averted, as even with faulty electrics, there would be no fuel source.

Evacuating a building

Evacuating a building is not always as simple as it sounds! There are a number of factors that need to be considered.

How is a fire detected? 

In a residential property, if fitted and in working order, a smoke alarm will detect a fire’s onset.  

By law, all commercial premises must have an appropriate fire detected system installed, and be serviced/checked regularly.

It’s worth noting that most fires start and develop in non-occupied parts of a building or where premises are left vacant.  

Notifying the occupants of a building

Notifying occupants can come in many guises, ranging from the most simplistic, i.e. ringing a bell and shouting ‘fire’ to the smoke/fire itself, triggering a fully automated, sophisticated alarm system.  

What follows is getting the occupants to a place of safety, quickly and efficiently, via pre-determined fire escape routes, which should be posted around the building. Imagine being in the building for the first time and the fire alarm going off. How well are the exit routes signed and lit?  

This, it’s fair to say, is fairly simplistic. Needless to say, the bigger and more complex the building, the more complex and detailed the requirements.

Is a fire risk assessment a legal requirement?

A Fire Risk Assessment IS a legal requirement. It is your duty to identify fire risks and hazards in your premises and take appropriate action. In addition, if five or more people work at your premises or your business has a licence under enactment in force, you’ll need your fire risk assessment to be a written record.

Who is responsible for carrying out a fire risk assessment?

Depending on the premises, but certainly commercial premises, would fall to any of the following:

  • Owner
  • Landlord
  • Owner
  • Occupier

As the responsible person, you must carry out and regularly review a fire risk assessment of the premises. The assessment itself will identify what you need to do to prevent a fire and keep people safe. You must keep a written record of your fire risk assessment if your business has five or more people working in the building.

Can I do my own fire risk assessment?

The law does not say who is allowed to carry out a fire risk assessment; however, the person must be competent enough to complete a ‘suitable and sufficient’ assessment of that particular building. For large or complex buildings, this may mean getting a professional fire risk assessor to carry out the assessment.

Who is responsible for completing the fire risk assessment?

The regulation states that a ‘responsible person’ must be assigned to handle all aspects of fire safety within the healthcare environment. This individual is charged with protecting all employees, customers and visitors to the premises by performing an initial fire risk assessment, followed by regular reviews.

How often should a fire risk assessment be carried out?

After the initial full fire risk assessment has been undertaken, it should be reviewed regularly and/or immediately following works if the building construction has altered or immediately follows any change in occupancy. At the very least, it would be advisable to review the risk assessment on an annual basis.

What are the five stages of fire safety risk assessment?

  • Identify the fire hazards.
  • Evaluate, remove or reduce any potential risks, i.e. identify any fuel sources. Ensure fuel for fire and ignition sources are kept/stored separately as much as is reasonably practicable. Ensure the occupants of the building can exit the building quickly and safely. Also, how would a small fire be handled? What appropriate firefighting equipment or fire suppressant would be needed? Also, what training would be required for people to use it safely?
  • Identify people at risk; employees, visitors, workmen, the general public, anyone with physical or mental disabilities – how would they get out of the building without using escalators or lifts or if on their own? How will they be notified of a fire? How are they going to get out of the building safely and where should they congregate?
  • Record your findings, prepare an emergency plan and provide training.

Write your findings down, compose evacuation procedures and how you would notify occupants and communicate it to visitors to the building. 

  • Review and update the fire risk assessment regularly, at least annually and/or when the building or occupancy alters.

Fire Risk Assessment Checklist

Fire Risk Assessment Checklist 1

How can fire risk assessment software help manage the process?

A software system should be user-friendly, transparent, easy to navigate and understand. A good software system will give you transparency of your risk once the initial risk assessment data has been entered, allowing you to see at a glance where any risks might lie and, in identifying them, prioritise the significant findings. This will enable you to take any remedial actions and budget for those works as required.  

The system should also be able to produce hard copy reports and evacuation procedures – in line with your data – so that you can share these with your employees or occupants. Good document storage within the software will allow you to upload and keep these documents safe and give you a view of the history of your risk.  

Take a look at our Fire Risk Module if for no other reason than to see how software might work for you.